As most of our friends and families know, we’re currently very busy and on a budget. (I’ll share with the readers what’s been keeping us busy soon). We’ve been eating out a whole lot more often than usual. As you know, it adds up! Also, it isn’t too healthy. Being the more budget conscious one for the everyday stuff in our lives, I always look for ways we can cut cost.
One of my solutions is prepared foods! I know what some of you are thinking, “What?!?! How is that healthy?!?”. Just let me explain. I love bento boxes and donburi (Japanese rice bowls) from Nijiya Market. They are under $10 each and very filling — prices varies from $5 to $10. The food is made fresh daily, and there’s a HUGE assortment. They have healthier options than the ones I will be showcasing in this post. I usually grab the ones that are $4.99. I know it sounds silly to buy something at $5 vs $7 or $8, but when you break it down, I’m able to feed 2 people for $10. The portions are pretty generous, so I don’t always finish it. Sometimes, I can eat the leftovers for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or even lunch! Crazy, right?! I’m all about making the most for my buck! This is WAY BETTER than going to a fast-food place. Even if, you grab a sandwich or salad for a healthier option, you wouldn’t be able to save it the leftovers.
Below are some bento boxes I’ve gotten from Nijiya and tips how I made it a healthier lunch or dinner. As you can see, each of these cost only $4.99 and look at the amount of food you get! There are also beef, pork, and veggie options.
1. Add Extra Veggies
I usually have fresh vegetables on hand in fridge that I can use for almost anything (e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, etc.). I can easily make a side salad, cut up some raw veggies, or steam some broccoli to eat along with the protein and carbs. It’s a great way to add veggies and freshness to your meal. I was too lazy to make a salad sometimes, so I just cut some tomato wedges and lettuce to eat on the side. Usually, these bento items have enough flavors, so I just eat the veggies unseasoned or dressed. There’s no need to add more salt or calories.
If you have a little extra time or while you’re washing and chopping your veggies, you should reheat any crispy items in the oven. The microwave is quick, but these items will just be soggy! Reheating them in the oven will give them a second life. I would remove the rice from the plastic bento box onto a plate and reheat it in the microwave. Anything that’s suppose to be eaten cold or raw, I keep in the bento box and transfer it with the rest of the items later. Once the crispy proteins are done reheating, I blotted any excess oil off with a paper towel.
Unless I have no time at all, I always eat my take-out on an actual plate with real utensils — none of that plastic and paper stuff. It makes a huge difference as you will see the examples below. My husband always feel impressed that our dinner was prepped food from the grocery store because it looks like I just cooked everything.
4. Find Other Leftovers to Add to Your Meal
Okay, sometimes it’s more fun to eat out of the take-out bento boxes. In this case, I heated the food items as need and plated them back into the box. I usually look through my fridge to see what leftovers I can throw in with my meal. I had leftover yam noodles, and as I mentioned, I always keep a stable of veggies on hand. I quickly chopped up half a zucchini, used a peeler for the carrots, and sliced up 3 mushrooms to make a quick noodle stir-fry. I seasoned it with soy sauce, sesame oil, and s&p. I basically made a quick and dirty japchae (Korean noodles). Normally, the leftover items I add are already cooked or prepared.
Here are some example meals:
The Chicken Karage Don – Fried Chicken Rice Bowl
This bowl consist of Japanese fried chicken, rice, and pickles. Classic donburi style, the fried chicken is cooked with a scramble egg and onions. Then a sauce made of usually soy sauce and mirin is poured on top of everything to bring the rice and protein together to this comforting bowl of goodness. I had some Japanese pickles in my fridge, so I added some extra for more crunch factor. Then I paired the dish with some raw veggies to balanced the fried chicken. I wasn’t able to finish it all and saved the leftovers for an afternoon snack.
Okonomi Nori Bento (“As You Like” Assorted Bento)
This bento box consist of a fried fish fillet, 2 piece of chicken karaage, 1/2 a potato croquette, rice, and a side root salad. I quickly made steam broccoli and cut up a Persian cucumber to add to the meal. I bought a pre-washed and cut bag of broccoli from Trader Joe’s to save time on cleaning and cutting; also items to wash. It only costed about 50 cents to a dollar more than buying the whole stalk. I added this leftover seaweed salad to the mix too. As I mentioned earlier, I always look what I have leftover in the fridge that I can add to make the meal even more appealing. Just look at my plate below! I obviously couldn’t finish this and saved the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Tip: If you come to Nijiya at a certain times, the boxes are still warm! We’ve come here (to the Japantown location) after a morning run in Crissy Field, grab a bento, sushi box, & a drink, and sat on the benches in front of Sohpie’s Crepes to eat our lunch. It’s awesome to come to Japantown before 12pm — so quiet.